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How Do You Prove the “Proximate Cause” of an Accident?


In any Tennessee personal injury case, it is critical for the victim to establish the “proximate cause” of an accident. Note that the proximate cause may not be the same thing as the immediate cause (or the “cause-in-fact”). For example, if a one driver runs a red light, a second driver suddenly stops to avoid a collision, and in doing so is rear-ended by a third vehicle, the “cause-in-fact” of the second driver’s accident is the third driver, but the proximate cause–i.e., the person who would be legally liable–is the first driver.

TN Court Dismisses Painter’s Lawsuit Against Homeowner Over Defective Ladder

Establishing proximate cause means proving the victim’s injury was “reasonably foreseeable” by the defendant. Now this is often pretty straightforward when we’re talking about something like running a red light or driving recklessly. But what about a scenario where someone is injured on another person’s property due to allegedly defective equipment?

The Tennessee Court of Appeals recently addressed such a case. The defendant hired the plaintiff to paint her house. She provided the defendant with the necessary supplies, including two aluminum ladders. At some point while painting, the defendant fell off one of the ladders and hurt his wrist.

The plaintiff subsequently sued the defendant, alleging she provided “old, loose,” and unsafe ladders, and that was the proximate cause of his fall and injury. The defendant denied the allegations and insisted the plaintiff fell because he was distracted while working on the ladder. The trial court sided with the defendant and awarded her summary judgment.

The Court of Appeals agreed that summary judgment was appropriate due to a lack of evidence regarding proximate cause. Indeed, the plaintiff himself admitted during a deposition that he did not know why the ladder fell. He said it “just kicked out” on him, but he could not explain whether that was due to a defect in the ladder or the fact he lost balance.

More to the point, the Court of Appeals noted there was no evidence the defendant was aware of any defects in her ladder–therefore she could not have reasonably foreseen any danger to the plaintiff. Before the trial court, the presented a report prepared by an expert witness who inspected the ladders and found them defective. But the Court of Appeals said this report did not establish proximate cause, especially as it was prepared two years after the accident. Ultimately, the Court said the plaintiff could not establish the defendant’s actions were either the proximate cause or the cause-in-fact of his injuries, justifying dismissal of his lawsuit.

Have You Been in an Accident? We Can Help

Reconstructing the causes of an accident is often a difficult task. This is why it is important to speak with a qualified Clinton personal injury attorney as soon as possible after any accident. A good attorney does not just help you argue a case before the judge. He or she also assists you in actively investigating the proximate cause of your accident and determining who may be legally responsible. If you have been in any kind of accident and need assistance, contact the offices of Fox, Farley, Willis & Burnette, Attorneys at Law.



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